The UMS-Wright Tradition
University Military School
The UMS-Wright Preparatory School has its foundation in the life of one man—Julius Tutwiler Wright. His goal was an education for the whole person-mental, moral, and physical-intensively tailored to the needs of the individual student. His goal remains central today to the educational philosophy of UMS-Wright.
Dr. Wright was the third generation of a family of educators who pioneered much needed improvements in Alabama education. The drive of this twenty-two year old was apparent on the first day of the opening of University Military School on October 2, 1893. That same day Mobile was hit by the most severe hurricane in the city's history, yet the doors opened in the small building at 559 Conti Street anyway. On that fateful day, the school opened with one teacher and twenty-five students, each paying eight dollars a month for tuition.
Six years later, enrollment reached almost one hundred students, and for the thirty-eight years that he ran the school, Dr. Wright was the one person responsible for planning and decision-making. There was no board of trustees. It was his decision to set high standards for student behavior. He once said, "The purpose of this school is to produce character of the highest possible order." He felt that "regular and thorough military athletic exercise imparts cleanness of physical life. The military discipline imparts dignity of character and sustained self-respect." Cadets marched in their gray uniforms to war bond rallies in Bienville Square during WWI and WWII and were a yearly fixture in the city's Armistice Day (now Veterans Day) celebration.
Dr. Wright began each day by reading the boys a passage from the Bible followed by a ten- minute sermon. On Monday he would say, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." He was stern and tough, yet he firmly believed that every boy had the ability to succeed.
William Pape took over the leadership of UMS after the death of Dr. Wright and led the school through the years of World War II. In 1943 when Pape died, his family turned over operation of the fifty-three year old school to a newly formed, non-profit corporation, the UMS Alumni and Parents Association, Inc.
In 1953 the UMS board, having determined that expansion of the school facilities was necessary for school growth, set its sights on the property on North Mobile Street and undertook fundraising for construction of a $1.5 million school facility. The doors of this new building opened in 1956. Enrollment at UMS numbered over five hundred students in 1956. In 1962 the elementary school at UMS became the first elementary school in Alabama accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
Girls Preparatory School
The Girls Preparatory School- predecessor for Julius T. Wright School for Girls three decades later- was launched by Julius T. Wright in 1923. A number of prominent Mobilians had approached Wright asking that their daughters be provided the same opportunities their sons were experiencing at UMS, and Wright was personally looking to provide such an opportunity for his only child, Rebecca. Wright purchased the former James McPhillips home at 1315 Dauphin Street as a home for the school. The faculty did not apply for jobs but were chosen by Dr. Wright. The GPS girls wore blue uniforms with starched white collars and cuffs. GPS had a bright but brief span. It closed with the death of its founder. Dr. Wright died in 1931, following a battle with pneumonia.
Julius T. Wright
By the time the new $1.5 million UMS facility opened in 1956, an equally ambitious campaign that same year saw the opening of Julius T. Wright for Girls in the renovated building at 1315 Dauphin Street that had housed UMS and originally GPS. Former students of GPS spearheaded this effort to re-establish a preparatory school for the young women of Mobile. When Julius T. Wright opened its doors in 1956, Caldwell Delaney was named headmaster, and Myrtle Boazman who later served as headmistress was named school dean. The school was redecorated, yet by the mid-1960s Julius T. Wright School for Girls faced the same dilemma UMS faced the decade before. The school needed to expand, and it needed a new site. A gift from David R. Coley, Jr. of thirty-two acres on University Boulevard provided the new site. Cabell Outlaw, Jr. (class of 1937) raised $1,500,000 in a capital campaign, and the new Wright campus was ready for classes on August 30, 1972.
As the career goals of men and women converged in society, a seemingly inevitable consideration was the combining of Wright School and UMS. A study committee was formed that examined some seventy schools in the southeast that had merged or converted into coeducational schools from 1968-1981. In 1988, the board announced the final decision, and today the enrollment of the combined UMS-Wright School is almost an equal balance between young men and women. To run this newly evolved institution, trustees designated as new headmaster Tony W. Havard, a member of the UMS English faculty. "It is a rare opportunity to be able to serve a school community like the one that exists at UMS-Wright. We are presented with the potential of combining the inspiring traditions of the past with exciting possibilities of the future," said Dr. Havard of the challenge. "I am excited about the growth, pride, and successful atmosphere at UMS-Wright."
Dr. Wright's goal was an education for the whole person, and that goal remains central today at UMS-Wright. As Dr. Wright once said, "The school, and every auxiliary of the school, must keep in mind that now abideth mind, body, and spirit, these three; but the greatest of these is spirit."